Rites Of Passage (Epic)
Indigo Girls

By Cary Stemle

Okay, so you're one of those quasi-guitarists who likes to sit around parties sloppily serenading your friends, many of whom like to chime right in. But you haven't learned any new material since America broke up, and you can't stomach the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling" one more time. Here's the answer:

Check out Indigo Girls.

The guitar- and angst-toting duo of Emily Ray and Amy Saliers offers perfect campfire fodder with their latest, Rites of Passage, a ceremonious account of Indian rituals and other heavy subjects.

The album finds Ray and Saliers evolving toward more fleshed-out arrangements to good effect. Lisa Germano, of John Mellencamp fame, contributes her instantly distinctive fiddle to several cuts, and a host of other guests provide Indigo Girls with the credibility to pull off the new sounds.

Germano sets the ominous tone in the opening strains of "Three Hits," the saga of an Indian brave making the trek to manhood. Also good is the whimsical "Galileo," with Saliers pondering reincarnation.

But thorns lurk among the rose blossoms.

It's hard to criticize Indigo Girls. They're fresh, they play well, they have conviction, and they are generously involved with several causes. But there are nagging musical problems that just won't go away.

One of the raps against the pair is that they take things too seriously. It's something they must realize, because they say as much in "Galileo" ("You know me/I take everything so seriously").

Another criticism is that too much of their music sounds alike. That complaint is still valid for Rites of Passage.

The most egregious offense, and one that lends credence to the idea that the pair is good only in managed doses, is the way Ray and Saliers provide backing vocals for one another. Each writes and sings six songs, with the other adding various vocal histrionics in the background. It is just those gyrations that render Indigo Girls grating.

Just when they are about to reach an eloquent moment, one of them chimes in with an unintelligible barrage of words. It's a bit too bombastic, and it just sounds too busy.

That's too bad, because in essence the songs are good. But these girls need to lighten up ("There's not enough room in the world for my pain") and tighten up. And hopefully down the road, they can cut the clutter and keep their feelings focused. There is a niche for a unique group like Indigo Girls.